The Sons of Katie Elder

The Sons of Katie Elder
"First, we reunite, then find Ma and Pa's killer...then read some reviews."

Thursday, December 6, 2012

The Furies

Having helped make a name for himself in the late 1940s with film noirs like Border Incident, Side Street, Raw Deal, director Anthony Mann spun that success into a string of his best films over a span of about four years, including an interesting, adult-themed western from 1950, The Furies.

Running his cattle ranch, the Furies, with an iron fist, T.C. Jeffords (Walter Huston) has created an empire unto himself. He doesn't tolerate weakness in those around him and is always looking out for his own well-being no matter the cost/expense to others.  At his side and helping him run the ranch is his fiery daughter, Vance (Barbara Stanwyck), who looks up to her father in every way and adopted his brutality as her own. As Vance decides she wants a husband who can keep up with her, the Furies falls on tough times with T.C. looking for any sort of income. Making matters worse is that T.C. proposes to Flo Burnett (Judith Anderson), a rich Easterner, a decision that does not sit well with Vance.

As I've written about before, the late 1940s and early 1950s were a key period in the transitioning of the wild west on film. Gone were the singing cowboys, straight-laced good guys and so obviously evil bad guys. The westerns became more adult-oriented. There weren't good guys and bad guys, just not-so-nice good guys and less evil bad guys. In other words? More realistic. These significantly darker stories have allusions from everything to Greek mythology to Shakespeare and everything in between. Hints of incest are there (incredibly subtle, but there) with countless more betrayals, back-stabbings and murders lurking in the corners.

Blending his film noir roots with the western makes for an easy transition for Mann in the director's chair. Picked up by the Criterion Collection, it's easy to see why. The film lives in both the film noir world and the western world, making for a great combination. All the film noir elements are there -- shadowy, smoky settings, the femme fatale, the conniving shady businessman and so many more -- and 'Furies' is certainly benefited from the black and white photography. Westerns can look beautiful in color, especially late 1940s ventures like She Wore a Yellow Ribbon, but there is an effective simplicity to the black and white. It was filmed on-location in the Arizona desert, the starkness and isolated feeling hanging over the ever-darkening developing story. Franz Waxman's score is worthwhile too.

One of my issues reading Greek mythology in high school and college was simple; too many characters. 'Furies' has a lot of characters, all of them looking out for themselves. A film noir star herself, Stanwyck seems at ease in the western. A tough female star is always a welcome addition to the genre, throwing away the notion of the damsel in distress. Huston gets to ham it up a bit as T.C., but he does a great job. Wendell Corey is the conniving Rip Darrow, a banker and saloon owner looking for revenge who also takes a shine to Stanwyck's Vance. Gilbert Roland makes the most of a supporting part as Juan Herrera who with his family is about to be kicked off the Jeffords' land, including his mother (Blanche Yurka), who's believed to be an old witch. Thomas Gomez as some fun as El Tigre, Jeffords' cattle boss, leading a supporting cast that includes Beulah Bondi, Albert Dekker, John Bromfield, and Wallace Ford

With a 109-minute running time, I wasn't always sure where 'Furies' was heading. Well, check that. You know it won't be a happy ending, but it takes an interesting route getting there. All the back-stabbing and betrayals are present as anyone and everyone starts to turn on each other. Always pay attention though, it is the 1940s and karma, she is a....well, you know. Past transgressions must be paid for. The final scene is a little too hunky-dory, a little too sweet for my liking, but the build-up is solid enough to not be ruined by the cop-out finale at the Jeffords' ranch. Credit to Mann for combining film noir and an adult western so smoothly. It's missing that special something that keeps it from classic status, but it's an above average western.

The Furies (1950): ***/****


  1. I enjoyed this film - really dark and nasty in approved Anthony Mann tradition, without the commercial tempering of his James Stewart films. One of Stanwyck's best too.

  2. Definitely. I loved that darkness that permeates everything and everyone.